Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 16, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for an excellent editorial on the effort to dislodge non-partyline commissioners. If Berkeley voters would begin a gentle chant, “term limits for councilmembers” every time this power play against knowledgeable commissioners was suggested, it would suddenly never be mentioned again. Politicians who refuse to allow diverse perspectives even to be voiced from advisory, relatively powerless commissions, don’t belong in office. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Everyone knows that the current struggle over further limits on the terms served by city commissioners is no more than a squabble between rival factions. That shouldn’t prevent the rest of us from considering the matter objectively—rather than sardonically, as Ms. O’Malley does with her remark “as if there were a huge citizen demand to attend tedious meetings.” She may have it backwards, and any alleged shortage of volunteers could well be explained by the number of commissioners who appear to be permanently entrenched. 

Common sense tells us that if commissioners can serve on one body for no more than eight years out of ten (voiding their present ability to leave briefly and later be re-appointed), more citizens can serve. On the one hand this is inherently more democratic, and on the other it still allows a significant period of service in which to build expertise.  

Revan Tranter 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The March 9 article on Sustainable Berkeley has several corrections that might be misleading to your readers.  

1. Sustainable Berkeley is a voluntary collaborative; it is not a not city commission. It does not govern or regulate. It formed in response to a report that identified that the city does not have capacity to lead our community to meet major goals such as zero waste and carbon neutrality, that the changes necessary to reach ambitious goals require a collaborative including all segments of society.  

a. The Sustainable Berkeley Steering Committee was self generated by environmentalists, businesses and academia to work together voluntarily to make Berkeley a green city; the steering committee was not selected by the city or mayor.  

b. Sustainable Berkeley does not claim to be fully representative of the community. We hope to continue to become more inclusive, since everyone in Berkeley needs to realign their homes and businesses to reach Berkeley’s goal to be the greenest city in America and to reduce GHG by 80 percent by 2050. 

2. Sustainable Berkeley is unincorporated since it is so new; it uses Community Energy Services Corporation (CESC) as its fiscal agent. The Berkeley Energy Commission is the governing board of CESC, they support creation of Sustainable Berkeley and an Energy Commissioner plans to join the steering committee. 

3. Sustainable Berkeley hired Timothy Burroughs to convene the community and create a GHG Reduction Plan. This process will be inclusive, transparent and posted on the Sustainable Berkeley and City of Berkeley website once it is developed. The Steering Committee and Mayor Bates will not have editorial control over the plan. Sustainable Berkeley has a city contract to deliver the plan to the city manager and mayor in December 2007. 

4. Timothy Burroughs was hired as a by Sustainable Berkeley without a recruitment process since he is a nationally recognized expert in GHG Reduction and the position is temporary through December 2007. 

5. Cisco De Vries is not an employee of Sustainable Berkeley; he is the mayor’s chief of staff working half-time for the city on GHG Reduction. We look forward to continued leadership and support from Mayor Bates. This spring, Mayor Bates will help us convene a meeting to inspire our top 100 commercial energy users to take action to reduce their emissions while saving money and helping make downtown green.  

Joel Kreisberg 

Chair, Sustainable Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley citizens on the losing side of a decision at the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), a citizen commission or the City Council often complain that the deciding body acted in an “undemocratic” manner. Usually this is said to occur because the government entity failed to recognize the predominant number of supporters for one side that was present at the meeting, where “almost everyone” publicly favored the outcome that lost. 

While this complaint is technically accurate, it is also beside the point. Berkeley has a representative form of government and is not a direct democracy. We choose people to make our decisions for us based on all the information they can gather, and we don’t take the votes of the attending citizens at these public meetings. The purpose of a public hearing or meeting, therefore, is not to count heads for or against something but to try to ensure that all points of view have been heard and that all relevant information is available. From that perspective, it shouldn’t matter if the same opinion is presented once or a hundred times, as long as it’s clearly understood. Deciding commissioners or councilmembers should act based on their consideration of all the relevant points of view, not just the views of those who may have packed the meeting with their supporters. 

As Warren Buffett once said about the stock market, Berkeley commissions and councils shouldn’t act as voting machines, they should act as weighing machines—weighing all opinions, not counting heads physically present. 

Our representative form of government is important in a town where most citizens simply don’t have the time or physical stamina to attend public meetings that often run into the late hours. We have decided to trust others with the task of making our civic decisions for us, based on all the input they can gather. And that’s precisely why organizations like Kitchen Democracy were formed—to give voice to those who cannot physically attend all the meetings all the time. While Kitchen Democracy does record opinions, its main value is facilitating the weighing of arguments for and against, and the opinions presented in writing. We should ask our civic representatives to read those opinions, and not just to vote according to the majority recorded there; Kitchen Democracy votes could be “packed” as readily as the audience at ZAB meetings.  

The relevant word in this discussion is “trust." Those who cannot trust their representatives to make fair decisions should indeed exercise their democratic rights—but that happens directly only at the ballot box, not at a late-night public meeting. 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am glad the Berkeley City Council has time for foreign policy (“City Backs Action on Rumsfeld”). However yesterday I went for a walk on Telegraph Avenue near the Berkeley campus. Is there another college town street in America more ugly and depressing than this? Why do the students rush along like they are afraid to even walk there? Why have I never seen any policeman or woman on the street walking or on bicycles? What right do the pan handlers have for violent stares that seem to imply that if you don’t give them money they might kill you? 

And finally, why was I the only guy with gray hair to be seen? I will tell you why: The street is scary. And there is nothing so ugly and depressed near a major university coast to coast. Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley is a disgrace to every Californian and American. The city political workers should take a look in their own back yard. What was once a wonderful college town neighborhood is one more store closing away from becoming a total urban disaster zone. 

Ken Vermes 

San Rafael 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m thrilled with the Planet’s coverage of AC Transit’s misguided plans to purchase 50 new Van Hool busses. I’m neither senior nor disabled but as an AC Transit bus rider, I very much agree with the “Van Hell” moniker. Thanks to you, I now know the extremely fishy circumstances behind their purchase from a Belgium company on a sole source contract. I also learned that Mayor Tom Bates asked to “inspect” one of the busses because he’s never ridden in one! Gee, I wonder why not?  

This past summer, when the Berkeley City Council discussed initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Mayor Bates declared, “It is time for the politicians and the people to catch up to the scientists and make the necessary changes in policies and behaviors.” I’m sure Mayor Bates knows that fossil fuel combustion is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and using public transportation is one of the “necessary changes” that is needed. It’s time you walked, er, rode your talk Mr. Mayor.  

I propose that Mayor Bates go beyond inspecting the Van Hool’s and actually try to conduct his normal activities using public transportation for one week in the Bay Area. I hope that all of the MTC commissioners do the same. You’ll soon learn some inconvenient truths about the public transit in our region. Sadly, the Van Hool’s are just one of many problems. The Daily Planet’s account of the Mayor’s adventures on public transportation could be quite amusing. Meanwhile, please continue to monitor the concerns of bus riders and the response of elected officials who serve on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 

Martha Wallner  






Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Sierra Club, which found itself dug deep into political quicksand and internal rancor over immigration and population control, appears to be backing thoughtlessly into another unwinnable, charged battle, this one aligning with a newly minted, polarizing developer front group in North Oakland called Urbanists for a Livable Temescal-Rockridge Area (ULTRA). 

ULTRA was formed to shill for condomania—Oakland’s belated, Jerry Brown era-effort to jump onto the development bandwagon, as his response to the public clamor for retail. Oakland’s version of condomania is especially developer-friendly—no impact fees, no environmental review or study of cumulative impacts prior to approvals, variances handed out like candy, no attempt to save decent and affordable, often historic housing, no respect for the neighbors’ loss of views and sunlight, a rubber stamp Planning Commission whose only concern is apparently that projects aren’t high enough or parking inadequate enough. 

Newspeak rules: Ultra, in a press release announcing the forum, claims that “higher density development along main commercial and transportation corridors” will actually create “more green open spaces,” “support local public schools,” promote “economic and cultural diversity,” and “healthy community interaction.” 

These $500,000-$800,000 condos are designed for single yuppies or perhaps childless young couples and are actually more expensive than many single family homes with yards and garages for sale in the same area. How can they truly support the schools, represent diversity, or justify any of the other ULTRA claims? 

The truth is that these projects are impacting affordable, rent-controlled multifamily units (condos are exempt from local rent control by state law). They create more strain on local police and fire departments already overburdened, not to mention other suffering infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, street trees, and parks. And the trashing of livable neighborhoods with looming ultramodernist condos whose residents further clog the streets (yes, they WILL drive cars!) will push more people OUT of cities. This will defeat what one assumes is behind the Sierra Club’s clueless participation in pushing condomania--saving farmland and open space. 

The Sierra Club is co-sponsoring the ULTRA forum from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, March 17 at the North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 MLK Jr. Way at 58th Street. Concerned Sierra Club members might contact the organization regarding its alliance with ULTRA.  

Robert Brokl 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Feb. 27 article, “Association of Bay Area Governments Helps Fund Pentagon Program,” demonstrates obvious confusion about ABAG’s Financial Services Department and how we serve as a conduit to secure financing that will fund a variety of projects in the Bay Area and other parts of California. The program offers such cost-effective financial services for cities like Berkeley that it is important to clear up any misunderstanding about how the program works. We help local governments and others gain access to tax-exempt debt financing and save considerably on public financing costs.  

In response to concerns raised in the article, ABAG itself doesn’t give or lend money to projects. We do provide a full range of cost effective financing services, expertise, and finance program options to local governments, non profits, schools, private universities, special districts, housing partnerships, hospitals, and healthcare organizations. Through various financial programs, we help them gain access to inaccessible financing. Note that these financial services are focused primarily in the greater Bay Area, with only 30% of debt financed secured for other projects outside our region.  

ABAG Finance Authority for Nonprofit Corporations, an ABAG finance program, cited in the article has helped nine projects in the City of Berkeley alone gain access to funding and lenders. This has translated into securing $78,600,000 to finance the construction of multiple apartments/mixed use facilities, multi-family rental housing, and a community health center; seismic upgrades and building improvement; and the refinancing of multifamily housing revenue bonds.  

I invite you to go our website at for a full description of the financial services programs and ways they are serving the Bay Area during these critical times of limited state and local budgets and restricted funding sources.  

Kathleen Cha 

Senior Communications Officer 

Association of Bay Area Governments 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m new to Berkeley, and have lived in South Berkeley for about three years now. In that time frame I have been consistently shocked and saddened by the lack of concern that both the mayor and our City Council, namely Councilmember Max Anderson, have shown towards truly addressing violence and presenting solutions for our community. Sunday night there was more gang activity one block from my home. My neighbors and I are trying to do our part to build community and live our lives, but we can’t when we feel that a few bad individuals are permitted to cause fear on our streets. My neighbors and I are asking for real change to happen. I’m not sure what the solutions are, but a real dialogue must happen. Several neighbors have suggested the installation of surveillance cameras at the corner of McGee and Oregon, as well as at the youth park on Oregon Street. Others have suggested more police foot traffic. My neighbors and I have been open to this discussion for awhile. What we really need though is some action. 

Don Mack 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s sad that the Berkeley Daily Planet has been doing a tribute to a journalist (Molly Ivins) who repeatedly has been caught plagiarizing the work of others. The most widely publicized instance was when she lifted most of a column from Southern humorist Florence King in 1995. Here’s how Ivins’ victim described the theft:  

But she continued to steal from other people after that. In 2003, she plagiarized Australian writer Clive James ( If journalists were intellectually honest, they would have kicked her out of their profession years ago. But by doing a tribute to her, the Daily Planet is endorsing her ethics. 

Bob Gamboa